“In those days, when there was no king in Israel….”
Judges 19:1a (NRSV)
The story in today’s chapter is one of those really challenging ones. It’s hard for a 21st century reader to wrap our heads around the every day realities of life in Judea 3,000 years ago. Life was brutal. Life expectancy was short. Societal systems were infantile in comparison to the present. And still, there are important themes the author is trying communicate.
The past two chapters have begun with the phrase “In those days, when there was no king in Israel….” That’s not random comment. It speaks directly to why this story is being told. This period of the Judges was one in which there was no system of strong central leadership. The further we get into this period of time, the more the people began to clamor for Israel to have a king of their own. The story of that political transition is told in the the book of Samuel.
The shocking and violent story of the Levite and the gang-raped woman became an event that sparked societal upheaval and unrest. In the same way that events in Ferguson, MO sparked intense societal reaction over the past year and a half, so the events of today’s chapter will be like the pebble that unleashes an avalanche.
The author knows that this is shocking, gut wrenching reading. It still shocks us today to imagine the brutal events as we read. That was the point of telling this story. “Do you see how bad things had gotten?” the story asks us. “Do you understand how evil and violent we become when lawlessness reigns?”
I find myself pulled in two different directions as I ponder the story in today’s chapter. I’m grateful to live in a time and society that is, by comparison, far better than the one described in Judges. I live in a place where law and order offer the opportunity to live a long, full life in relative peace and safety.
As the same time, the shocking events described and the societal firestorm it sparks are ancient reminders to me of very current realities. The more things change the more they stay the same. As “advanced” as our society has evolved, we continue to deal with core human problems of hatred, rage, prejudice, violence, sexual violence, misogyny, gang mentality, greed, and et cetera, and et cetera. Events similar to those we read about today were front page news from India just a short time ago.
The people in the book of Judges would grow to call for a king to make things better. People today are calling for a new president to make things better. Strong leadership can make things better for society, but it can’t change the human condition that lies at the very core of the societal problems. For that, I need a Savior and the transformation of heart, spirit and life that happens in relationship with Him.